The new RSD Drops lists came out April 7th for both the June 12th and the July 17th Drops. Similar to 2020, Record Store Day is being split into multiple dates to help with crowding in the stores. I think this also helps with the vinyl pressing delays as the record manufacturing is still catching up from the COVID shutdowns and related problems.
As I predicted in my post last year about the excellent Double Image: Rare Miles from the Complete Bitches Brew Sessions 2 LP release, the next in the series is one based on the 1970 sessions that resulted in the Jack Johnson (AKA A Tribute To Jack Johnson) album. Titled Champions – Rare Miles from the Complete Jack Johnson Sessions, it will come out for the second RSD Drops on July 17th, and will be around $21.97 according to Bull Moose, and will be on opaque yellow vinyl.
According to the expert in all things Electric Miles, Paul Tingen, Davis was spurred on by his recent exposure to Jimi Hendrix to state in a 1969 Rolling Stone interview, “I could put together the greatest rock ‘n roll band you ever heard.” Tingen surmises that Davis seeing Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies at the Fillmore East New Years Day, 1970 was the biggest catalyst for his new sound.
Davis was in the Columbia studios with his band for a marathon 12 dates starting February 18th and continuing through June 4th– an incredibly productive time for Davis yielding many more recordings than the two that ended up on the 1971 LP. Distilling the massive amount of time in the studio for Davis into releases that make sense organizationally continues to be a challenge, and has since the beginning involved some creativity on the part of the record producers and the label. This is compounded by the fact that Davis rolled tape for every minute he was in the studio.
Following the sessions that would form Bitches Brew (August 19th-21st, 1969) Davis continued recording music that followed the new electric Jazz/Funk path he was taking. The compilers of the Complete Bitches Brew opted to take sessions from November 1969 through to February 1970 that used the same band lineup as Bitches Brew. In that regard, the Double Image release is less of an outtakes of Bitches Brew as it is maybe a part II.
The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions pretty much pick up where The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions drop off. “Take It Or Leave It” was recorded on February 2nd, and the initial “Willie Nelson” sessions start just over two weeks later on February 18th.
Side A 1. “Duran – Take 4” (March 17, 1970 at Columbia Studio C) 2. “Sugar Ray” (March 20, 1970 at Columbia Studio B) 3. “Johnny Bratton Take 4” (February 27, 1970 at Columbia Studio B)
Side B 1. “Ali – Take 3” (May 19, 1970 at Columbia Studio C) 2. “Ali – Take 4” (May 19, 1970 at Columbia Studio C) 3. “Right Off – Take 11” (April 7, 1970 at Columbia Studio B)
As an entry in the catalog of Miles Davis music, The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions represent a transitional snapshot. These are the sound of Davis and his sidemen searching. Big looped sections on the eventual album from these sessions show the band landing blocks of music that work, but also seems to include the band kind of reaching. A lot of this was a result of the very unstructured approach in the studio. From the Tingen article:
“Everything was experimentation,” recalled drummer Billy Cobham. “There was not one moment that whatever was put on a piece of paper would not be changed.” “A lot of times the way we did things was very fragmented,” added Dave Holland. “Often I didn’t know whether we were recording or rehearsing. We would have these fragments, these sketches of ideas, and we’d play them for 10 minutes. And then we might do one more take like that, and move on to the next thing. One of the things that created the sound of the studio recordings is that were all trying to figure out what was going on. This created a certain space—it wasn’t tentative, but it was searching. And Miles had a policy of taping everything. When it was then finally put together, there was a lot of editing that went on.”
Even with this somewhat randomly-organized recording, the highlight is Davis, who plays some fantastic runs around the grooves. This seems to be a result the physical and mental health of Davis during this time. The cover of Champions is a photograph of Davis in the ring taken by Jim Davis shortly after these sessions. Tingen quotes Chick Corea, “Miles was, “totally clean, working out in the gym, physically looking great, and living the life of a health freak. He had this thing about fish and told me how good fish was for you.” In short, Miles was in great physical and mental shape, and at the peak of his trumpet powers.”
In the Davis catalog, Jack Johnson is a record that is somewhat obscure; maybe “obscured” is a more accurate description. Even though it uses a similar approach of editing miles of tape into a two-track epic funk, it is overshadowed by achievements of Bitches Brew. The Champions collection of tracks from these sessions helps put some context around somewhat meandering Jack Johnson album and also opens the door for the following Electric albums which include my personal favorites Big Fun and On The Corner.
Speaking of On The Corner, it’s almost certain that the next RSD-exclusive title based on the series of “Complete Sessions” for Miles Davis will be from the 2007 Complete On The Corner Sessions made up of sessions from June of 1972 through May of 1975.
The year-end lists are upon us again. Time for me to list out the ways I’m getting further away from the beaten path of popular music.
The worldwide pandemic of 2020 had a gigantic impact on the music industry. The most obvious of which was the cancelation of most tours. Artists were forced to figure out new revenue streams or at least better utilize the revenue streams they had. Many artists embraced live streaming to varying degrees of success. The ones who did it right were the ones who either partnered with someone to provide the streaming, or if they did it themselves made sure the quality was up to the standards of produced live content. A significant upswing of Patreon use helped many artists weather the lack of income storm and Bandcamp’s “Bandcamp Friday” once-a-month event where they waived their own fees had the double effect of raising awareness of bands who had merch as well as the long-tail effect of encouraging more regular use of Bandcamp. I was a fairly avid shopper at Bandcamp, but in 2020, I was buying multiple releases per month as acts I follow released Bandcamp-only albums or songs. As a result, my Best of 2020 includes some digital-only releases for the first time that I can remember.
From a vinyl perspective, 2020 was as screwed up as everything else due to COVID-19. Just ahead of the widespread lockdown one of the two plants that manufacture the lacquer plates required to start the process of creating the physical stampers burned down taking out about 70-80% of the lacquer plate availability. Add to that the fact that manufacturing in general was impacted either by the infection rate of employees interacting, or by limiting the number of employees when they could work, pretty much all release dates for vinyl were pushed way out. Add to that the fact that the US Postal Service suffered losses due to sorting facilities being limited as a kind of way to prevent mail in ballots for the 2020 primaries and the impact of COVID-19 cases with the employees, it’s a miracle any titles were released this year.
Record Store Day in April was delayed to June and then eventually re-tooled as three “RSD Drops” in August, September and October. Most of the titles for RSD in April were manufactured in 2019 in anticipation for the usual vinyl manufacturing delays surrounding the April event. As such, most of the big titles for that event came out as planned, with some titles being pulled out and released outside of the drops and some delayed to later Drop dates or Black Friday RSD (which happened as planned). RSD 2021 is slated for June 12th, presumably so that manufacturing can better deal with these restrictions. The other obvious reason for pushing the date out is that it is predicted that general availability of vaccines for COVID-19 should be out by then and the risk of going to a store would be lessened and as such, the stores can have a regular “big” event. The downside of it being in June is the temperatures are starting to get warmer and will increase the risk of warping the records both in shipping to the stores as well as any shipping for online purchases.
Here are my Top 20 releases from 2020 (in no particular order):
Jeff Parker – Suite for Max Brown – Parker’s follow up to his brilliant 2016 album The New Breed finds him continuing the very contemporary blending of jazz and electronic elements. Fans of his work in Chicago Post Rock outfit Tortoise will find a lot to enjoy with this release and maybe will enjoy it more than the odd sidestep of 2016’s Catastrophist. Get Suite For Max Brown from Bandcamp.
Chicago Underground Quartet – Good Days – Speaking of Jeff Parker, the reunion of one of Rob Mazurek’s more notorious projects Chicago Underground Quartet– an expansion of his Chicago Underground Duo with drummer Chad Taylor whose last album was the self-titled release on Thrill Jockey back in 2001 (way out of print and copies go for over $75 when they show up…). This session was an unplanned reunion in that producer Chris Schlarb instigated by getting the individual musicians to come to L.A. to work on another project and then offered to produce a Chicago Underground Quartet record. The album was recorded in one day, but doesn’t sound thrown together due to the fact that most of the songs were actually composed for the other members prior to the recording.
Exploding Star Orchestra – Dimensional Stardust A third album with Jeff Parker on it and a second album from Rob Mazurek. I loved the 2010 release Stars Have Shapes on Chicago Blues and Jazz label Delmark. (Still in print!) Exploding Star Orchestra is an expansive interpretation of Mazurek’s experiments in abstract jazz. To me the best parts of Dimensional Stardust are when the band hits a groove, like on track 2, “A Wrinkle in Time Sets Concentric Circles Reeling”
Parker’s clean guitar runs run counterpoint to the horns on this track which lends a lot of complexity for the listener to follow through the various musical strands of the work. The flute from Nicole Mitchell is fantastic and adds a fluttering beauty to the proceedings. Very much recommended for fans of Thrill Jockey bands.
Tame Impala – The Slow Rush – I honestly kind of forgot that this was a 2020 release! Some of that might be that it came out in early February, but also that a couple of tracks had been floating around for a while. “Borderline” came out in April of 2019! I picked up the indie exclusive green vinyl version of this from Ragged Records in Rock Island, IL. The kind of pissy thing about this vinyl release was they didn’t provide a download with it and there wasn’t a good way to get a download of it. Now, you can either buy it from Amazon, or if you buy the vinyl release from Amazon, you can do the “Auto Rip” download, so that is a good option, now.
My solution to this back in February was to buy a new CD of it on eBay from a seller who seemed to have a grey market source for a lot of new titles. These shipped from Asia even though the seller was from Massachusetts. Because the shipping took so long, the seller provided a download of the CD as well! I doubt any part of this was legal, strictly speaking. But, the CD I got was in shrink and included all of the CD artwork which was a calendar due to the theme of the album of being a year. That calendar artwork is not part of the vinyl release, incidentally.
Matt Wilson Orchestra – When I Was A Writer – Matt Wilson was part of the seminal Minneapolis band Trip Shakespeare along with his brother Dan Wilson. Trip Shakespeare made the leap to a major label in the early 90’s where they ultimately ended breaking up. Dan Wilson and John Munson formed Semisonic of “Closing Time” fame. Dan would go on to pen songs for the likes of Adele, and Semisonic has reformed in 2020. Matt Wilson joined Twin Cities band Polara briefly and also released one solo record in 1998 and also formed The Twilight Hours with Munson. Matt Wilson’s latest project “Matt Wilson Orchestra” represents a return to songwriting for Wilson after a break. The “Orchestra” is made up of largely acoustic instruments and heavenly vocal harmonies. The lineup of instruments includes banjo and harp, as odd as that seems, but it totally works here and really comes as close to what I think Trip Shakespeare might have sounded like in 2020 as anything. The vocal harmonies recall The Mamas and the Papas. An all around gorgeous record and really should be on more peoples’ radars. You can order the CD/LP/Download from Wilson’s new label Pravda Records HERE.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – ReunionsJason Isbell was quoted somewhere (I can’t find it at the moment) that his goal is to write songs that feel like the songs we heard on the radio years ago. To that end, I think he has achieved his goal. Isbell’s particular take on country and rock (he’s considered Americana, but these days I feel like he is really just rock to me, maybe in the same way The Eagles are really a rock band, even though they have “Desperado” and “Seven Bridges Road” in their catalog). Recognizing the tough position that brick and mortar record stores were in due to the pandemic, he released Reunions early to record stores in a special “Dreamsicle” orange pressing that came with a print of the album art and an art print of his 1959 “Red Eye” Les Paul done by Iowa artist Karl Haglund. This was a constant soundtrack this summer as I worked on my landscaping as a distraction from not being able to do anything out of the home.
TWINS – Dream On – Cedar Falls, IA band TWINS came back with a new album and new sound in 2020. Known primarily as a power pop band based on their guitars, hooks and harmonies of their first three records, the four years between Square America and Dream On saw the band change their lineup and gave lead singer and lyricist Joel Sires a chance to dig through his personal record crates to find inspiration in Springsteen, Mellencamp and Steve Earle. The resulting record represents a welcome maturity in the band and Sires flexes his lyric craft opening the door to his first solo release which comes out this year. Read my review at Little Village.
Tom Misch and Yussef Dayes – What Kinda Music – Tom Misch got his start as a Soundcloud celebrity and released a few records under his own label. For his Blue Note Records debut, he partners with drummer Yussef Dayes to create what I think is the best example of what Blue Note Records should be in the new century. A blend of nouveau ideas about the landscape of music and jazz tonality. Misch is young enough to claim John Mayer as an influence, and the guitars on this album owe a debt to Mayer, but more than that, the album draws from Hip Hop and electronic music. In that regard it fits in with the likes of Thundercat and Kamasi Washington. The lyrics on What Kinda Music are a bit shallow so the tales of a tortured artist are not here, and honestly this would have kept this album off of a shorter list. But, the album sounds great and I found myself going back to this and his Mix Tape 2 album quite a bit in the last quarter of 2020.
Reno Bo – You Can See It All From Here – Reno Bo has been somewhat quietly cranking out brilliant rock records for about ten years. As a sideman he’s worked with the likes of Albert Hammond Jr. (of The Strokes) and Brendan Benson, and has been pretty busy in that capacity, but I anxiously await his solo releases. For his 2020 album You Can See It All From Here he returns with a sound that to me really reminds me of Tom Petty and Matthew Sweet (particularly “Like A Stone”). Bo is part of the Cabin Down Below band which holds Tom Petty tribute shows, so that isn’t probably far from the influences he would claim.
Monophonics – It’s Only Us – For Monophonic’s fourth album, the band returns with Kelly Finnigan on vocals and keys (at this point he’s a permanent member, I guess).The sunny 70’s soul and funk has been polished to a shimmer on It’s Only Us. In fact, I hear a lot of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On? and The Spinners “I’ll Be Around” on it. This record is a banger from beginning to end. The title track is sheer brilliance.
Kelly Finnigan – A Joyful Sound – Speaking of Kelly Finnigan, he released another solo record in 2020, relatively soon after his 2019 solo record Tales People Tell (which got an RSD-exclusive instrumentals release in 2020) and the aforementioned Monotones album! A Joyful Sound is a holiday record on par with the Phil Spector A Christmas Gift For You. A stone cold classic that everyone needs in their collection. I wrote a review of it here.
Calexico – Seasonal Shift – Calexico put out its first holiday record in 2020. It was a collection of covers and originals. The covers include “Christmas All Over Again” by Tom Petty and “Merry Xmas (War Is Over) from Lennon and Ono. I would have liked to see “Gift X-Change” from the Aerocalexico tour album on here. Such a beautiful song from the band. Either way, a welcomed addition to the slowly-growing collection of Christmas vinyl.
Johnnie Cluney – Love Is Law – If you know of Cluney, it’s likely due to his signature illustrations for Daytrotter.com (R.I.P.). His musical output is equally notable and the Bedroom Shrine record was a favorite of mine. He continues the dusty lo-fi journey on his first album under his own name. The album sits somewhere in the neighborhood of Dinosaur Jr, Elliott Smith and Sebadoh. The physical release is a cassette and that’s pretty much the best way to listen to it. Read my review here.
Hiss Golden Messenger – Forward, Children and School Daze: Fundraisers for Durham Public Schools students – I’m kind of cheating here by lumping two releases together, but honestly they are a pair of releases that belong together, and likely everyone who bought one bought the other. Proceeds from the sales of these Bandcamp releases go to support Durham Public Schools, which ended up being even more essential as they needed to gear up for students newly in distance learning. The live shows from HGM are places where the recorded songs take on a life of their own. These two releases are made up of performances from the same tour in support of Terms of Surrender. The retooling of “Jesus Shot Me In The Head” on Forward, Children is worth the price of admission. Both of these releases support the idea that HGM could stand to have a physical live album release.
Anthony Worden and the Illiterati — ‘Voilá – Iowa City musician put out one of my favorite releases in 2020. Shining bits of guitar pop brilliance. Recommended if you stan Britpop from Costello or Nick Lowe. The additional vocals from Penny Peach take this record over the top. When’s her solo record out? Read my review in Little Village.
Elizabeth Moen – Creature of Habit – 2020 derailed the album release plans for Moen. She released two singles from her album that was supposed to come out (“Headgear” and “Ex’s House Party”) and had a tour planned to correspond with the release and then the pandemic hit. Stuck at home she started working on new songs that were anchored in synthesizers rather than her trusty guitar. The songs are some of her best yet and I can see how this “experiment” in different instruments could inform her songs going forward.
High Waisted – Sick of Saying Sorry – NYC surf-meets 60’s girlband outfit High Waisted is back with another slab of sunny dance-able pop rock. Front woman Jessica Dye really nails the 80’s girls with attitude vibe– think Linda Ronstadt, Debbie Harry and Pat Benatar. Her powerful soprano coupled with giant guitar is an infectious combination. This record was lost in the fog of COVID undeservedly and everyone should check this out.
Dope Walker – Save Save – Dope Walker is an Iowa-Minnesota supergroup/side project made up of William Elliott Whitmore, Aaron Mader (producer Lazerbeak from Twin Cities hip hop collective Doomtree), Zach Westerdahl of Ten Grand, Mike Schulte from The Pork Tornadoes, Joel Anderson from FT (The Shadow Government). Save Save is the debut record from the collective and has a very polished post hardcore sound. This album kind of missed the radar of folks (including me for most of the year).
Grateful Dead – Buffalo 5/9/1977 Box Set – For the third RSD “Drop” on 10/24, we were treated to the second vinyl box treatment of the four-night May 1977 run represented in the Get Shown The Light CD box set released in May of 2017 for the anniversary of that 4 night run. In 2017 the legendary Cornell show was released as a vinyl boxed set. The second box set is from Buffalo the night after Cornell. This show is notable for the fantastic “Help Is On The Way” > “Slipknot!” > “Franklins Tower” opener, largely regarded as the best performance of this sequence. The Cornell show was the one that opened the door to the Dead for me, so I’m super happy to have this show. I think that the existence of the Buffalo show might hint that we’ll get the other two nights with a similar vinyl treatment.
Pylon – Box Seminal Athens, GA band Pylon got the reissue treatment from New West Records in 2020. The first two albums were returned to print on vinyl for the first time since the 80’s and the first time on CD since I think 1997 when DFA Records reissued them with bonus tracks. As part of this effort a WONDERFUL box set was released which, along with the first two albums Chomp and Gyrate also included the “Razz Tape” — an early recording of the band and “Extras” which included b-sides and rare tracks. There was also a beautiful hardbound book with photos and other ephemera from the band which also acts as a compliment to an exhibition at the University of Georgia of the band. I wrote an in-depth breakdown of the boxset here.
As a fan of Christmas and holiday music, like many, I tend to stick with the classics. “White Christmas” from Bing Crosby, “Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Gene Autry, “The Christmas Song” from Nat King Cole. That said, what is considered “classic” today at one time was a new holiday song. For example, “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney, which by any account is a classic Christmas song came out in 1979. A Charlie Brown Christmas album by The Vince Guaraldi Trio originally came out in 1965. George Winston’s December came out in 1982.
My point is that new Christmas music comes out each year, and aside from very well-done covers of the classics (“Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town” by Springsteen, Stevie Nicks’s version of “Silent Night”) attempts at new Christmas songs are generally tricky propositions. A good Christmas song is more than just holiday adjacent lyrics with some sleigh bells slapped on it for good measure, though scads of this seem to be the norm.
So, when Colemine Records, my favorite R&B label out of central Ohio announced that Kelly Finnigan was releasing a record of Christmas and Holiday songs, I was really interested to hear it. The legacy of Colemine Records stems from acts influenced by all of the big R&B labels: Motown, Stax/Volt, Atlantic, Philadelphia International, Philles, Chess, and the list goes on. Most of these labels put out Christmas records at some point (Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift For You and Altlantic Records Soul Christmas, being two legendary examples), so it stands to reason that Colemine would know what the bar would be for a great record.
Kelly Finnigan is a bit of a secret weapon for Colemine Records. The Bay Area musician, songwriter and producer is a recent addition to the amazing Monophonics on keys and vocals and whose 2020 album It’s Only Us is start to finish a brilliant record with a huge lush sound. His solo album The Tales People Tell from 2019 was a strong debut with Finnigan playing most of the instruments on the record, which took over two years to complete. I recently noticed that he’s a co-writer on one of my favorite Colemine singles “Next To You” by Gene Washington & The Ironsides.
You’d think that with a strong 2019 solo release and the new Monophonics record that would be enough new music, but he is closing 2020 out with a Christmas record– A Joyful Sound which came out on Tuesday digitally with the general vinyl and CD releases coming out on December 11th.
For this album, Finnigan wrote or co-wrote most of the songs. In a couple of cases, he retooled some R&B chestnuts to be Christmas songs.
The other track is from a really obscure Detroit R&B record “To Be Young” recorded by The Magic Tones. The re-boot as “To Be Young At Christmas” is a tastefully polished track, and unless you knew the original track, you wouldn’t think this wasn’t a Christmas song from the start.
My favorite song on the album, though is the heart-wrenching “No Time To Be Sad” which was the first song I heard from the album and pushed me to pre-order it instantly. That french horn, FTW. Holy crap.
I got in on the pre-order, which was a red and white swirled vinyl and came with a slipmat matching the tartan pattern of the record as well as a CD. I got the wonderful news that these pre-orders have shipped! The regular releases will come out on 12/11 and include a regular black vinyl version as well as an indie record store Christmas tree green pressing.
With so many fantastic releases coming out of Colemine, it isn’t surprising that they’d have a strong holiday release like A Joyful Sound. This is an essential release for R&B fans and Christmas music fans alike.
I’m a sucker for earnest songs about heartbreak. Clearly.
When I watched Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Magnolia, I was struck by the songs from Aimee Mann. Like many, I was familiar with her band, the MTV darlings Til Tuesday, but I hadn’t really kept up. Though, there wasn’t much to keep up with. The classic yarn of a band breakup followed by a couple of brilliant solo albums that her label didn’t know what to do with caused her to crash land in 1999 with no label and a record in the can that wouldn’t be released.
As the story goes, Paul Thomas Anderson was moved enough by the demos of this album to craft Magnolia around it and get some more songs from her. He connected to Mann through her husband Michael Penn who scored Anderson’s first two films. She got an Oscar nom for “Save Me” (a song that was written for the film).
I rewatched Magnolia recently. A horrific storm called a “derecho” blew 130+ MPH winds across Iowa, removing over 65% of the tree cover of Cedar Rapids and knocking power out for days and cell service and internet for weeks. Once power was restored, my wife and I still didn’t have internet and cell service was spotty, so we took to digging through our sadly-neglected collection of DVD’s and Blu-Rays for stuff to watch. We hadn’t seen it probably since I bought the DVD when it came out in 2000. The film’s three hours is not an easy watch, and twenty years later the heavy-handedness of the story arc and plot devices seems almost dated. Considering this was Anderson’s carte blanche film following the breakout success of Boogie Nights, it’s apparent he was pulling out all of his directorial tools for this. The soundtrack and score of the film end up being an essential part of the narrative with songs belonging to the characters, the culmination of which is when the film pauses for the characters to sing “Wise Up.”
This part of the film was a real lump-in-the-throat moment for me and how I became a fan of this soundtrack and Bachelor No. 2. I wrote an article back in 2008 proposing a mix people could make of the two CD’s to make a perfect version of the album.
Bachelor No. 2 was released in May 2000 on Mann’s own record label Super-Ego Records. It included “How Am I Different,” “Deathly,” and “You Do” from Magnolia. “Nothing Is Good Enough” appears on the soundtrack as an instrumental. Interestingly, “Wise Up” was originally intended for the film Jerry McGuire. A really great article breaking down the soundtrack by A/VClub by Alex McLevy makes the observation that in a literal sense the song says that the film “is not going to stop” until the characters wise up. Certainly the scene in the film where the characters sing “Wise Up” is a point of inflection.
In 2006, Mobile Fidelity Soundlab corrected sin of this album not existing on vinyl by pressing a limited run of 200g half-speed mastered LP’s based on the original US CD (which means it doesn’t have “Save Me” on it in place of “Driving Sideways” as the UK version did). These days copies of this are running around $200 and I was keeping an eye out to see if any might show up for a deal.
It will be interesting to hear that new version of “Wise Up.” If I had to guess, it probably removes the drum machine. In the press release she mentions that she “used a lot of drum loops” and nowhere is it more apparent than on “Wise Up.” Though for me, that works great.
For the uninitiated, Pylon was a band from Athens, GA that started in the late 70’s by some art school students at the University of Georgia. For context in the larger history of Athens bands, they’re post-B-52’s and contemporaries of R.E.M. Their distinctively angular and beat-heavy sound would be described as post-punk and follows a path blazed by New York City bands like Talking Heads and Television.
The first phase of their career started in 1978 and after two albums on the now-defunct label DB Recs Gyrate and Chomp and enjoying some well-deserved exposure supporting bands like R.E.M. U2 and Mission of Burma on tours, they split up in late 1983.
Pylon would have just been a footnote in the history of the Athens music scene if it hadn’t been for the 1987 documentary “Athens, GA Inside/Out” which turned leagues of R.E.M. fans like myself on to the band. R.E.M. also recorded a cover of the Pylon song “Crazy” and released it as a b-side to “Driver 8” and it was the first track on Dead Letter Office, a collection of outtakes and b-sides. Peter Buck said in the liner notes, “I remember hearing their version on the radio the day that Chronic Town came out and being suddenly depressed by how much better it was than our record.”
The jittery energy of the live version of “Stop It!” with the militant growled vocals by Vanessa Hey was like nothing I’d ever heard before and even though it was the R.E.M. songs that drew me to the film and soundtrack, it was the Pylon track that ended up being my favorite part of that soundtrack. (Honestly, I always kind of felt like R.E.M. sort of phoned in their contribution with that Everly Brothers cover…)
Pylon reunited and in 1989 released a compilation called Hits which had notable tracks from the two albums as well as some tracks from singles. In 1990 they released another studio album Chain.on Sky Records. They went on tour with R.E.M. and then split up again in 1991. The band reunited for shows sporadically over the years that followed until they finally broke up for good after guitarist Randy Bewley passed away in 2009. Vanessa Briscoe Hay fronts a Pylon tribute band “Pylon Reenactment Society” along with members of other area bands and have even recorded a couple new songs.
In 2007 DFA Records, owned by Tim Goldsworthy of UNKLE and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem reissued Chomp and Gyrate on CD with bonus tracks . Titled Gyrate Plus and Chomp More, they went immediately out-of-print and the CD’s are now super-expensive in the secondary market. So, clearly there is demand for this catalog to be reissued again.
For Black Friday Record Store Day in 2019, New West Records sort of tipped their hand in the matter by reissuing Pylon’s debut single “Cool”/”Dub.” I reached out to the label about whether they were going to reissue the albums and at the time they confirmed it, but weren’t going to announce anything for a few months. Then COVID happened which messed up record manufacturing, so I’m guessing that’s why the announcement happened much later for the albums and the box set.
The box set comes in two versions, black vinyl and a limited-to-500 colored vinyl version. Four 140g LP’s include new remasters of Gyrate and Chomp, an LP of Extras which include singles, b-sides and other rarities, and Razz Tape, which is a recording of the band which pre-dates their 1979 debut single recorded in their practice space by Chris Razz. 47 tracks total with 18 of them unreleased.
Since they aren’t also reissuing the 1989 compilation Hits which also included some non-album tracks and there were extra tracks on the DFA releases, how do the tracks compare and what are we missing with the box set?
We’ve seen “Cool,” “Dub,” “Crazy” single mix and the “Danger!!” remix from the !! import EP on Hits and the DFA reissues as I indicate below. We have two completely new songs “Untitled” and “3×3” plus a couple of new mixes of “Danger III” and “Spiders.” Not to mention all of the new versions and tracks on the Chris Razz tape.
Notably missing are some tracks included on the DFA reissues. “Crazy (Original Version)” on the Chomp More reissue seems to also be referred to as the single version. “Yo-Yo (Pylon Mix)” or “Male version” (it has slowed-down versions of the vocals) and “Gyrate (Pylon Mix) are two versions that were recorded during the tracks that were recorded at Mitch Easter’s Drive-In, but the versions that were used on the album came from the sessions at Channel One. We’re also missing the 6-minute version of “Beep” that is called “Four Minutes.”
Interestingly, “Functionality” was listed on the Gyrate Plus reissue as a “Studio Demo.” But the liner notes say it was recorded in 1979 in their practice space in Athens, GA, so that is from the Razz tape.
Here are all the tracks for the boxset and the breakdown of where the Extras have been released before:
Feast On My Heart 03:35
Weather Radio 02:16
The Human Body 03:11
Read A Book 02:02
Driving School 03:53
Working Is No Problem 03:29
Stop It 03:06
Italian Movie Theme 02:01
No Clocks 02:57
Untitled – New track
Cool – from Cool/Dub debut single, also Gyrate Plus and Hits
Dub – from Cool/Dub debut single, also Gyrate Plus and Hits
Recent Title – from Hits
Danger!! (Danger Remix) – from !! EP also Gyrate Plus
Crazy (Single Mix) – from “Crazy” single and Hits and probably Chomp More.
Reptiles (Channel One Version) – New version
No Clocks (Channel One Version) – New version
Spider (Alternative Mix) – New version
3 x 3 (Live) 02:19 – New track
Danger III (Live) – New track
Razz Tape LP – all new tracks except “Functionality”
The Human Body 03:08
Modern Day Fashion Woman (Version 1)
Read A Book (Instrumental)
Working Is No Problem
Functionality – from Gyrate Plus
Modern Day Fashion Woman (Version 2)
Feast On My Heart (Working Version)
Pre-order the box set from New West Records HERE or at their Bandcamp site (where you can stream some of the tracks).
It doesn’t seem that long ago that Cedar Falls band TWINS released Square America, a manifesto of guitar riff-filled adolescent desire. It picked up from where 2014’s Tomboys on Parade left off– pulling pages from Rockpile, Cheap Trick and Big Star’s recipe books.
In those four years since the last album, TWINS sustained a lineup change and apparently a crash course in adulthood somewhere along the way. If you’ve seen TWINS or Joel Sires live in recent years you’ll have noticed the songs have switched focus. The songs still hang on the fantastic hooks the band is known for, but now with some introspection and willingness to let Joel Sires’s lyrics take precedent.
I was commenting to someone recently that the 2014-2016 shows seem like ancient history and even though the songs on their latest album Dream On (out June 5th) are new, Joel’s been playing them out for, I think, over three years. So, for some of us these songs are already like our favorite worn in shoes. Familiar and cozy.
In some regards, this approach of working the songs out live before hitting the studio is a similar process to one Springsteen, an obvious influence, was doing during the heyday of E-Street. The band played many songs live before the album came out and the fans came to anticipate the songs on the albums. We don’t see that a lot these days since the process for an album is typically in secret until BAM! The load is blown on release day and everyone is left to sort out if it was good or not while they collectively smoke a cigarette.
If you haven’t seen the band in action recently, the addition of Ben Rendall on keys and Toby Sires on lead guitar fills the sonic landscape of the band nicely.
It’s Time to Play B-Sides is honored to be able to debut the 2nd single from Dream On: “So Far Gone.” Joel Sires says this about the song:
It was one of the last songs I wrote for the record. I had been catching up on the news and whatever new crisis was unfolding at the time was particularly disturbing, even though I can’t tell you specifically what it was now, and had me worried about the current state of affairs and the future of our country. So I went downstairs and wrote this song in about five minutes without the intention of it being for the band or really for anything. Mostly just to make myself feel better. Nevertheless I played it for them and they took it in a whole different direction, sort of this swampy Stonesy groove you hear on the record was all their creation.
Be sure to pre-order Dream On from TWINS from their Bandcamp page (which includes vinyl!):
We’re treated to yet another “lost” album from the jazz archives, this time from the extensive Blue Note Records archives. On April 24th Blue Note will be releasing an originally rejected release titled Just Coolin’ from a March 8, 1959 session recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Hackensack, NJ. This session was dropped due to the fact that four of the six tracks recorded overlapped with At The Jazz Corner of the World (not to be confused with the 1960 2 LP Meet Me At The Jazz Corner of the World with Wayne Shorter) album recorded by Alfred Lion at Birdland in NYC just over a month later on April 15th, 1959. Split over two volumes, the first was released in 1959, and the second in 1960.
Drummer Art Blakey’s legendary Jazz Messengers band had a lot of lineup changes during its 35 year run. The period from 1958-1964 is generally regarded as the most notable run for the band. Blakey pulled together a band of Philly natives: Lee Morgan (trumpet), Benny Golson (tenor sax), Bobby Timmons (piano), and Jymie Merritt (bass). This is the band that Blakey had on his Blue Note Records debut Moanin’ (Blue Note 4003), recorded in October of 1958 and released in January of 1959. Following the sessions for Moanin’, the band hit the road for an extensive tour of Europe producing the live albums 1958 – Jazz Olympia (on Fontana) and Art Blakey et les Jazz-Messengers au club St. Germain (on French RCA) among other later releases (mostly unofficial) that came out in the 1970’s to capitalize on Blakey’s departure from releasing albums as changing tastes in modern music turned away from his music.
Ultimately, the replacement of Mobley with Wayne Shorter resulted in two of my favorite albums in the Jazz Messenger catalog: the 1961 release A Night In Tunisia, and the very-underappreciated (in my opinion) 1962 album Mosaic.
Mobley spent a brief stint in Miles Davis’s band as a replacement for the departed John Coltrane starting in 1961. But that pairing never really resulted in the partnership that Davis was missing with Coltrane. He appears on the studio album Someday My Prince Will Come (which somewhat awkwardly also features Coltrane) and two live albums : Friday and Saturday Nights Miles Davis In Person at the Blackhawk, San Francisco and Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall.
Just Coolin’ is an album that documents a brief interval in the changing lineups of The Jazz Messengers, but an important one nonetheless. Hank Mobley wrote three of the songs for the album, and they also appear on Jazz Corner of the World: “Hipsippy Blues,” “M&M,” and “Just Coolin’.” The early reviews suggest that the studio takes lack the energy and possibly the polish of the live versions, but the inclusion of two previously unheard songs pique the interest of fans and present a kind of “what if” scenario with Mobley had he been able to continue with the band.
The first track we get to hear is the previously unheard Bobby Timmons composition “Quick Trick.”
Here is the track listing for Just Coolin’ with YouTube links to the four versions from At TheJazz Corner of the World fso you can get an idea of what the other songs will sound like.
UPDATE: The 2020 COVID pandemic resulted in the standard April Record Store Day being canceled in favor of three “Record Store Day Drops” August 29th, September 26th, and October 24th. All of these are Saturdays, incidentally. The original Record Store Day list has been split up over these three dates. It’s worth noting that Black Friday Record Store Day (Friday, November 27th) has not been changed, yet, and is kind of a 4th “Drop” I suppose, coming a month after the last Drop.
The Miles Davis Double Image: Rare Miles from the Complete Bitches Brew Sessions will be released on the 3rd drop on October 24th.
The 2020 Record Store Day List came out this week, and I’m pleased to report that Sony is continuing the trend of releasing compilations of Miles Davis outtakes that they started for the 2019 Black Friday RSD Early Minor release for the In A Silent Way sessions. This release titled Double Image: Rare Miles from the Complete Bitches Brew Sessions, takes the unreleased studio recordings from the 1998 Columbia boxset The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions.
Sony is stepping up their game with this release. It is a two LP gatefold with opaque red LP’s. Bull Moose Records (kind of the original home of RSD) shows their list price as being $25.97 (note: this price went up $1 since it was originally announced in March) which is a pretty fair price for such a nice presentation. According to the RSD site, there will be 6000 pressed worldwide.
Like many people, my first exposure to Miles Davis’s catalog started with his groundbreaking 1959 album Kind of Blue and by most accounts this is the album most people wanting to get into Davis or jazz in general should start with. Wanting to dig further into his catalog I went earlier in his career with his pre-modal style Prestige Records catalog, then moved into his early Columbia career with albums like Round About Midnight (1957), Sketches of Spain (1960) and Someday My Prince Will Come (1961). At the time I was aware of Bitches Brew, but it took a long time for me to really appreciate the album, initially seeming too cacophonous and lacking any discernible structure. For me it took listening to the Chicago jazz artists like The Chicago Underground Ensemble/Chicago Underground Trio and bands on Delmark Records who were related to post rock band Tortoise to really be able to appreciate Bitches Brew. Further, it was interviews with Tortoise bass player Doug McCombs about how Teo Macero’s tape editing work on Bitches Brew informed how his 2009 album with David Daniell Sycamore was created– improvisational recording sessions were edited into the resulting album that pushed me to take a closer look at the album.
The album as released was recorded over three days in August of 1969 (19th-21st) at Columbia’s Studio B in New York City. The band was the largest collection of musicians Davis had assembled to date. The core of the band was a partial carry over from the In A Silent Way sessions with Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Dave Holland on bass, Chick Corea on electric piano, and Jack DeJohnette on drums. Notably, this was the live touring band and had already been performing some of the key pieces from Brew including early versions of what became “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down”, “Sanctuary”, and “Spanish Key”. According to Paul Tingen (who wrote the essential book on this period “Miles Beyond : Electric Explorations of Miles Davis, 1967-1991”), this pre-work with a band before hitting the studio was rare (apparently not considering the fact that most of the 1950’s Prestige releases were based on in studio takes of what was his live show at the time). The five-piece was joined in the studio by Joe Zawinul (electric piano), John McLaughlin (electric guitar), Larry Young (electric piano), Lenny White (drums), Don Alias (congas), Juma Santos, and Bennie Maupin (bass clarinet).
After some meetings with the band at his house where they, according to the JazzTime article Tingen wrote, brought in their own compositions for Davis to choose from and he made sketches that they would work from in the studio during the three days booked. At these sessions (with Teo Macero producing and engineer Stan Tonkel), Davis acted more like a conductor than composer. The tapes typically ran the entire time and he used playbacks to further tailor the works.
Davis left the post production work to Teo Macero. Macero used extensive tape editing and effects like delay and echo on previous albums In A Silent Way and Circle in the Round to create new works from the raw recordings which many consider to be groundbreaking work in itself. Extensive tape edits were done to create the first two tracks on the album “Pharaoh’s Dance” (which has 19 edits) and “Bitches Brew” (which has 15). Davis had the final approval of the recordings, but according to Tingen never really gave Macero the full credit he deserved and Macero’s own opinion was that Davis didn’t really want to credit even the musicians. This is why In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew are credited as “Directions in Music By Miles Davis” as a kind of way to take full credit for the recordings.
The second LP in Bitches Brew had less studio manipulation than the first two sides. This was largely because these songs were more fleshed out due to live performances. “Spanish Key” and “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” had no edits. “Sanctuary” has one edit where Macero clips in a different take. “John McLaughlin” is an edit of a studio improvisation where Davis isn’t playing. According to Tingen, Davis gives some rough vague instructions during the session and they lumber along not knowing where to take the work until Davis says “John” and McLaughlin takes a guitar solo and then the band falls into lock step. Macero edited this down to McLaughin’s solo and following for the final recording.
The resulting album was somewhat baffling to the musicians who performed on it. Tingen quotes a famous story by Zawinul where he says he was standing in the offices of CBS and heard music over the speakers and asked a receptionist what it was when she replied that it was “that Bitches Brew thing.”
When you look at the jazzdisco.org entries for August 19-21, 1969 sessions and compare it to the track listing for Double Image, you’ll notice that the songs included were not recorded during the sessions that were used for Bitches Brew. So, what are these recordings?
Reissue producer of the Complete Bitches Brew Sessions Bob Belden told Tingen that they included the extra tracks that used a lot of the same musicians as Bitches Brew and also that these songs were additionally electric piano focused. As was typical of this later period Davis studio work, he had a lot of sessions recorded that were not intended for any particular album release, and CBS kept cranking out new albums that were ostensibly just compilations of unrelated songs– oftentimes songs many years apart. The 1979 compilation album Circle in the Round has tracks from 1955 through 1970. Exploitative? Maybe, but the renewed posthumous effort of getting Davis’s work released in a somewhat orderly fashion serves the purpose of making some sense of the progression made over his life in music.
Below is the track listing from Double Image: Rare Miles from the Complete Bitches Brew Sessions with my added notation of what the recording dates were.
LP 1 / Side A “1. Yaphet” (11/19/69) 2. “Corrado” (11/19/69) LP 1 / Side B “1. The Little Blue Frog (master)” (11/28/69) 2. “The Big Green Serpent” (11/28/69) 3. “Trevere” (11/28/69) 4. “The Little Blue Frog (alternate take)” (11/28/69)
LP 2 / Side A “1. Double Image (first version)”(1/28/70) 2. “Feio” (1/28/70) LP 2 / Side B “1. Recollection” (2/6/70) 2. “Take It Or Leave It” (2/6/70)
I’m going to predict that since we have had an LP from In A Silent Way’s complete sessions (which was box set #5 of the “complete” series) and now Bitches Brew (which was box set #3) that the next RSD release will be based on the 2003 box set for The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions (box set #6). The Jack Johnson album only had two tracks on it and there were a lot of sessions not used, so it should be interesting to see what they’d include on a vinyl comp.
It’s that time of year again when I try to remember what I listened to for the last 12 months and also when I peruse the other Top Lists from other websites to see what I missed. Considering the state of flux and chaos that the music industry is in regarding musicians getting paid, the amount of new and essential releases that come out still amazes me.
2019 was a pretty strange year all around, but in the music industry we had the big kerfuffle over Taylor Swift’s catalog being sold as part of the acquisition of Big Machine by Ithaca. I doubt that she’s in any risk of losing her position as one of the richest musicians in pop today, but certainly she doesn’t have control over where or how her music is being used. She’s not the first artist to fall into the trap of trading control for album advances and she won’t be the last, I’m afraid.
Speaking of Swift; Ryan Adams, who did a track-by-track cover of her 1989 album in 2015 was exposed by The New York Times as being a sexual predator, misogynist and possibly a pedophile. For longtime fans (who include me) this was pretty earth-shattering. I’ve covered Adams a lot on this site over the years and was aware of how unstable he seemed to be, but never thought he was someone who was abusive to fellow artists (usually demanding quid pro quo sexual favors to help their careers.) Then there are the accusations about the inappropriate relationship he had with a minor. He denies all of this and there hasn’t been any legal reaction to any of this that we’re aware of, but Blue Note cancelled the trifecta of records he was going to release this year. He’s been largely silent since this came out, but in recent weeks he’s been testing the social media waters with some posts. I have a feeling that with enough passing of time, people will forget this and he’ll likely come back. The history of pop and rock music is dotted with stories like his (and in some cases mythologized– yikes). For now my RA albums are in a box on a shelf in the basement.
2019 was also the year of Lizzo. Her career took a really steep arc this year with her much-anticipated full length release on her new label home Atlantic. The singles have been all over the place, and “Juice” becoming the anthem. I had been following her career prior to her move from the Twin Cities to L.A. but admittedly Cuz I Love You isn’t on my Top 20 because I didn’t listen to it this year other than the singles and videos. Her Tiny Desk Concert is AMAZING, btw.
2019 marks the tenth year I’ve been writing for Little Village Magazine, I wrote a lot of reviews for Little Village Magazine this year covering what I think has been the most exciting year yet for Iowa music. It seemed like new records were coming out every week from new bands, and existing bands and artists came out with career-defining releases. I launched a streaming music video channel on SBTV.com called The Fly-Over Music Hour. Its focus is on Midwestern bands and artists who have created great music videos. SBTV.com is a video streaming platform that TV stations use to stream content they create and own ad supported. So, you can watch the news and other original content from stations across the US. The Fly-Over Music Hour is an example of a 24×7 channel of original content intended as kind of an example that stations could duplicate in their markets, but also it gives me a chance to shine a light on some of my favorite music coming out of this area. There are apps for iOS, Android, FireTV, AppleTV as well as on the web. You can visit it at https://sbtv.com/flyover
Here are my Top 20 albums of 2019 (in no particular order):
Dickie – Minus Thieves – Singer-songwriter Dick Prall is back with his second album under his band name Dickie. For Minus Thieves the band has a new lineup with multi-instrumentalist and drummer Billy Barton. This album continues the largely autobiographical songwriting from Prall, but takes a more outward view than the 2015 self-titled release (which made my Top 20 list for that year, too). The production was handled by Pat Sansone from Wilco and engineer Josh Shapera and takes a more stripped-down and guitar driven spin than the typical chamber pop we’re used to, which puts the focus appropriately on Prall’s vocals and lyrics. My review of Minus Thieves for Little Village.
Beth Bombara – Evergreen – It’s a good year when we get a new album from Beth Bombara. I loved her 2017 release Map and No Direction (which made the Top 20 for Play B-Sides that year). Evergreen continues the rock leanings she established on that release. This album compares favorably to releases from folk rockers like Sheryl Crow and Aimee Mann. This is an album I think I played more than any other this year. She released a really great video for the album which takes my two favorite songs and stitches them together into one video.
Shane Leonard – Strange Forms – I can’t say enough about Shane Leonard’s last two records. Printer’s Son under the moniker Kalispell really took me by surprise when it came out in 2016. Daringly personal and beautiful across the board. Strange Forms from this year picks up where Printer’s Son left off and continues the journey exploring familial roles and relationships and exploring his new role as a father and husband. To me these two albums belong together. It’s worth a listen if you’re into the more acoustic sounds of Bon Iver or Elliott Smith’s later albums. His writing style always makes me think of Aimee Mann’s later works, too.
John Coltrane – Blue World After the surprise release of Both Directions At Once in 2018, I wasn’t really expecting another “lost” Coltrane album to come out. But, happily we got one in 2019 thanks to a soundtrack he recorded for a Canadian film in 1963. I don’t think that this release is particularly essential in his catalog as it documents a small window in his career, and is comprised primarily of new recordings of earlier songs. But, it ends up being very listenable and Blue World ends up being a nice alternative to some of my most-spun releases in his catalog (Blue Train, A Love Supreme). My “Deeper Dive” article about Blue World.
The Diplomats of Solid Sound – A Higher Place It’s hard to believe that it had been over nine years since the previous release from The Diplomats of Solid Sound. I suppose from most peoples’ perspective the band had merely broken up, but Doug Roberson had been bringing the band out for live shows, so anyone paying attention knew it was still a going concern. A Higher Place sees the reunion of the Diplomettes as a trio with Abby Sawyer rejoining the band, and it is wonderful to have her back. My review of A Higher Place for Little Village Magazine.
Hiss Golden Messenger – Terms of Surrender While not at the rate of releases from, say Thee Oh Sees or King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, we’ve been blessed with regular releases from Hiss Golden Messenger— nearly every year since 2010’s Poor Moon— and this doesn’t include the occasional EP or digital single. The recording of Terms of Surrender comes on the heels of a very dark time for him personally, resulting in a record that feels more personal than the previous ones. Aside from that, the record carries the same groove we’ve come to expect and ended up being a regular rotation for me.
Halfloves – Dazer Iowa City band Halfloves came back with their sophomore album in 2019. Their 2016 self-titled release came along with a band renaming (formerly the Olympics) and the firm hand of Brandan Darner who helped the band watershed their new sound and direction. For Dazer the band is rejoined by Darner and while they still carry their trademark dark pop, the three years since the first album has focused their sound producing a beginning-to-end stunner with a big sound. My review for Little Village.
Subatlantic – Villians The debut LP from Quad Cities band Subatlantic came out in 2019. Subatlantic was a band that I had been keeping an eye on because a lot of my friends in the Quad Cities were talking about them. Villains is a wonderful record with a kind of 90’s shoegazer sound. Rebecca Rice’s vocals and lyrics are wonderful reminding me a bit of Throwing Muses or The Cranberries. My review for Little Village.
The Maytags – Meriweather – Des Moines R&B outfit The Maytags’ album Meriweather is a departure from their more classic R&B sound on their 2016 release. Work schedules of the members resulted in a more stripped down approach which at times sounds like Prince’s classic Minneapolis sound. My review for Little Village.
Pieta Brown – Freeway – In 2014 Pieta Brown released her last album on Red House Records. Paradise Outlaw was recorded at Justin Vernon’s April Base Studios and had some of the extended Bon Iver crew on it (Vernon contributed vocals to one track as well). After an untethered five years where she launched her own imprint Lustre Records and released an EP of outtakes called Drifters in 2015 and an album of collaborations called Postcards in 2017. She also acted in a film during this time. For Freeway, she went back to April Base to record resulting in an album that has a slightly more atmospheric vibe to it than her previous releases. This is due to the use of a band that aren’t her normal go-to studio guys. Righteous Babe Records (Ani DiFranco’s label) saw fit to release this on pink vinyl and this is the recommended way to consume this record. My review in Little Village.
Crystal City – Three Dimensionality – Dave Helmer and Sam Drella of Crystal City step out of the barstool blues of their previous albums and enlist some very talented friends to create a record with new complex sonic textures drawing from jazz and and leaning a little into the Steely Dan territory. A fantastic record with lots to keep your ears busy. My review for Little Village.
Hex Girls – More of That Cedar Falls proto-punk/no wave revival combo Hex Girls put out their super-high-energy debut record More of That with enough bombast and edgy guitar to make your cool aunt blush (the one who said she read the bathroom walls at CBGB’s in NYC in the 80’s). My review for Little Village.
Brother Trucker – 5 Legendary Iowa barroom blues rock and country band Brother Trucker put out what I think is their best release this year. It is steeped in brilliant story telling and ripsaw guitar riffs. My review for Little Village Magazine sums it up well, “Most of the songs in the Brother Trucker catalog capture regular lives — like Norman Rockwell paintings of Midwestern life viewed through the bottom of a beer bottle.”
David Huckfelt – Stranger Angels I figured it was only a matter of time before we got some solo records from the guys in The Pines. David Huckfelt participated in an artist-in-residence in Isle Royale National Park in Michigan where he watershedded the songs that would end up on Stranger Angels. As I state in the review I wrote for Little Village Magazine, these songs aren’t a dramatic departure from the songs that Huckfelt brings to The Pines, but the change of band brings some new edge we don’t hear from the atmospheric leanings of that band.
Pink Neighbor – Time Beach Universe This was a really fun discovery for me this year. Iowa City’s Pink Neighbor put out their first album and it’s a well-executed tribute to the sunny singles of the Sixties from bands like The Zombies and The Mamas & The Papas, but also has a bit of new wavey B-52’s vibe. My review for Little Village.
Elizabeth Moen – A Million Miles Away – 2019 was a big year for Vinton, IA native Elizabeth Moen. She released her second album, which was a refreshing departure from her more straight folk of the first record. A funky and edgy release showing Moen figuring out her footing while delivering a soul-laid-bare performance. I played this release a lot this year. She seemed to play pretty much everywhere and even did a tour of Europe. She had a successful kickstarter for her third album, so that will probably be out in 2020!
William Tyler – Goes WestWilliam Tyler is a go-to guitarist for a few bands including Lambchop, Silver Jews (R.I.P.) and Hiss Golden Messenger. His solo releases are steeped in the American Primitive guitar tradition but he takes it to a whole new level. I would recommend every album he’s put out if you’re looking for instrumental guitar. Goes West has a really great, almost cinematic spans to it. Even though it is titled Goes West, it isn’t particularly western in theme, but feels like it could be a soundtrack for a film set in the desert and mountains.
Surf Zombies – Return of the Skeleton Cedar Rapids music scene fixture Brook Hoover’s Surf Zombies came back in 2019 with their fifth album and second on vinyl (amen). Instrumental surf guitar extravaganza, per usual, but I’m a huge fan of classic surf rock from vintage bands like the Ventures and Dick Dale and newer bands like Los Straightjackets. Return of the Skeleton stands with the best of those bands.
Octopus Live – Cedar Falls bar The Octopus on College Hill has been recording multi-tracks of the bands in the bar as an archival project. This year they pressed a vinyl-only compilation of some of the notable shows dating back to 2017. Bands like TWINS, Elizabeth Moen, SIRES, Holy White Hounds and Brother Trucker all turn in fantastic performances. They only pressed a couple hundred of these, so you don’t want to sleep on this. CLICK HERE TO ORDER ONE.
Tripmaster Monkey – My East Is Your West – Quad Cities band Tripmaster Monkey made it to a major label in the Nineties and promptly fell through the cracks of the chaos of record label acquisition hell. The band got back together and worked on new songs resulting in an album that is a distillation and refining of their sound from 30 years ago.
If that wasn’t enough, reissue label Get On Down is releasing a previously Japan-only album of Miles Davis in concert from 1964 with an early iteration of his “second great quintet.” It was released in the US on CD in 2005, but not on vinyl. Titled simplyMiles in Tokyo, the album originally came out in 1969 on Sony/CBS and this release copies that release down to the gorgeous black and white cover art and the OBI strip (which is slightly modified to show the Get On Down catalog number and logo). The original pressing was a gatefold, I’m hoping the replicated that as well, but I have no indication one way or another. (Chris from Bull Moose hasn’t done his rundown yet. I’ll update this if he mentions it).
Sam Rivers joined Miles Davis’s quartet in April of 1964 replacing George Coleman according to the Sam Rivers sessionography. This database quotes Davis as saying he wanted to hire Wayne Shorter but Art Blakey had him tied up in the Jazz Messengers, so he hired Rivers at Tony Williams’s suggestion and took him on tour. Rivers would stay with the quintet through July 15th, which is the day after the Miles in Tokyo recording took place. Rivers would be replaced evenually with Wayne Shorter in September, which would establish the “second great quintet” which would stay in place until 1968 and recorded the albums E.S.P., Miles Smiles, Sorcerer, Nefertiti, Miles in the Sky, and Filles de Kilimanjaro.
I think the reason for Rivers’s short stint in Davis’s band is two-fold. Clearly Rivers was Davis’s second choice, and also the general opinion is that Rivers’s style on the sax didn’t mesh well with Davis’s, and this is apparent according to critics on the Miles in Tokyo album. To me the recording is notable in its frenetic pacing of the songs. I think it picks up the energy from the Lincoln Center performance, which shares a lot of the same songs, including the sped up “So What.”
Here is the track listing for Miles in Tokyo:
A Side : “If I Were A Bell”, “My Funny Valentine” B Side : “So What”, “Walkin”, “All Of You”
Helpfully, there is a YouTube video of the complete album: